Stone Telling

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Native Americans fishing at Celilo Falls, circa 1940. Found vernacular photograph

The Elders at the Falls

by Ursula K. Le Guin

In 1958 a dam was completed below the great falls of the Columbia River at Celilo, where for thousands of years there had been a town, and, when the salmon came up the river to spawn, a great fishery and meeting place for peoples from all over the region.

I heard this story.
They stood all day with their backs turned.
They stood there just above the river
all the long day with their backs turned
to what was happening.
Like the chorus in ancient tragedies,
not the heroes but the old people
who do not see the battle,
the sacrifice, the murder,
they stood and listened to the messenger,
the voice that tells the story.
The voice they listened to
that had spoken all their lives
and all the lives before them
telling its story, their story, that great voice
grew smaller, became less,
became quieter,
all day, until
at twilight
it was silent.

They turned around then.
They turned and looked at the flat lake of silence.

As of 2010, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include a volume of poetry, Incredible Good Fortune, the novel Lavinia, and an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Image: Native Americans fishing at Celilo Falls, Oregon. Found vernacular photograph circa 1940.